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A beer tour of Bruges

Between the beautiful architecture, tasty chocolate, charming cobbled streets and army of swans, there is another key ingredient to a holiday in Bruges lurking away in atmospheric pubs and inviting shops. No trip to Belgium, and its most visited tourist destination, is complete without sampling Belgian beer. Ali from Great Escapes recently returned from a beer-heavy trip to Bruges. This is his conclusion of his time in the medieval city and exposure to Belgium’s true gift to mankind.

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Chocolate, waffles and beer were at the forefront of my mind when I visited Bruges recently. I have long been a big beer fan, having previously worked for a beer magazine, and not many places do it much better than Belgium. Much to my girlfriend’s delight, I dragged us into giant bottle shops in the middle of walking tours, grabbed a refreshing pint before midday and even took us on a tour of the city’s oldest surviving brewery.

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I’m pleased, and slightly amazed to say, we both had a great time delving into the beery heritage of the city, and it is certainly an activity I would encourage holidaymakers to explore during any break to Bruges; particularly those travelling by Eurostar, as avoiding those pesky flight weight restrictions will ensure you can bring back as many bottles as you can carry home with you!

One of the first big beer stops that visitors to Bruges should make is at De Halve Maan, Bruges’ most historical brewery. Beer has been brewed here by the Maes family for centuries and today, the brewery and its adjoining museum are open for guided tours, culminating in a free glass of De Halve Maan’s most famous product, Brugse Zot. Tours take place every hour between 11 am and 4 pm and tickets can be booked on their website or purchased upon arrival.

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The next stage of your trip, which comprised about 65% of my visit, should be spent dipping in and out of Bruges’ fine beer pubs and bars. Two reign supreme in the city, Cambrinus Beer Brasserie and ‘t Brugs Beertje. The former can be found to the north east of the Grote Markt on Philipstockstraat and has one of the thickest beer menus I’ve ever had the pleasure to peruse, while the latter is located on Kemelstraat to the south east of the GroteMarkt. It was in Cambrinus Beer Brasserie where I sampled a bottle of Westvleteren 12 – often referred to as the world’s greatest beer.

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When your beer pub and bar pilgrimage has come to an end, you’ll want to find a suitable shop where you can purchase your new favourite beers for their journey back to the UK. Look no further than The Bottle Shop, discovered on Wollestraat just a stone’s throw from the Grote Markt. This remains the largest beer shop I’ve ever set foot in, and I managed to purchase 12 beers here to transport home with me.

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It is safe to say that beer nuts will find a haven in the city of Bruges, but even those who don’t consider themselves a fan of the world’s finest beverage will be intrigued by the history of the city’s beer culture, or better yet, find themselves converted.

If you’re more of a wine and champagne kind of person, make sure you take a look at some of our Great Escapes to France.


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Top 10 eats in Cologne, Germany

If you’re looking for some culinary inspiration during a trip to Cologne, or want to know some of the best eateries the city has to offer, dive into our top ten eats and discover where you can get a great burger, a traditional bratwurst, a delicious local beer and much, much more…

Bei Oma Kleinmann

With a busy and bustling atmosphere, this restaurant is a great place to visit if you’re looking to dine on traditional German schnitzel – and lots of it!

Zülpicher Str. 9
50674 Köln
Phone:  +49 221 232346

Website: https://www.beiomakleinmann.de/

Image credit: Larry Hoffman, Flickr

Image credit: Larry Hoffman, Flickr    

 

Die Fette Kuh

With many guests claiming they had ‘the best burger they’ve ever had’ here, it’s no wonder it makes our top ten. The pictures you’ll find on their Facebook page are enough to tempt you into making a pit stop.

Bonner Str. 43
Cologne
Phone: +49 221 37627775

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DiefetteKuh#_=_

Image credit: designsquad, flickr

Image credit: designsquad, flickr

 

Zippiri Gourmetwerkstatt & Wein-Bar

A little Italian restaurant with fabulous food and great service, if you fancy a slice of Italian cuisine during your break in Cologne, this is a great place to try.

Riehlerstr. 73
50668 Köln
Phone: +49 221 92299584

Website: http://www.zippiri.de/

Image credit: Cucino di Te, Flickr

Image credit: Cucino di Te, Flickr

 

Gilden im Zims

For something a little more than just food, visit this beautiful historic gastropub that’s more than 550 years old. Here you’ll experience great, traditional food, refreshing Kölsch and a helping of German history all in one place.

Heumarkt 77
50667 Köln
Phone: +49 221 16866110

Website: http://www.haus-zims.de/index.php/en/

Image credit: Raymond - Raimond Spekking, Wikimedia Commons

Image credit: Raymond – Raimond Spekking, Wikimedia Commons 

 

Hanse-Stube

Located inside Excelsior Hotel Ernst, a 5* hotel in Cologne, its restaurant is just that – 5*. With spectacular gourmet dishes on offer, this is a great place to dine if you’re partial to meat and fish.

Trankgasse 1-5 / Domplatz
50667 Köln
Phone: +49 (0) 221 270 1

Website: http://www.excelsiorhotelernst.com/restaurants-bar/restaurant-hanse-stube-koeln.html

Zen Japanese restaurant

For a taste of Japan during your break in Cologne, choose from Zen’s extensive Japanese menu and enjoy the taste of exquisite tempura, ura maki and sashimi dishes.

Bachemer Str. 236
50935 Köln
Phone: +49 (221) 2828 5755

Website: http://www.restaurant-zen.de/

Image credit: kanonn, Flickr

Image credit: kanonn, Flickr

Ristorante Al Solito Posto

Eat pizza and pasta until your heart’s content at this small and rather quaint restaurant. Fresh, homemade sauces compliment their Italian specialities and they’re also very reasonably priced – an ideal place for a quick spot of lunch.

Wattstraße 9
51105 Köln
Phone:  +49 221 16877018

Website: http://al-solito-posto.de/index.html

Image credit: Matthew Kenwrick, Flickr

Image credit: Matthew Kenwrick, Flickr

Gast und Weinhaus Brungs

This is a great restaurant to experience authentic German cuisine and sample beautiful wines from their 14th century cellar. Using local ingredients, you can choose traditional dishes such as Bratwurst, or Italian options are also available.

Marsplatz 3-5
50667 Köln
Phone: +49 221 2581666

Website (only in German): http://www.weinhaus-brungs.de/#_=_

Image credit: Oxfordian Kissuth, Wikimedia Commons

Image credit: Oxfordian Kissuth, Wikimedia Commons 

Gilden Brauhaus

If you’re looking for a traditional German Brauhaus with a cosy and rustic atmosphere, then add Gilden Brauhaus to your itinerary. Enjoy a refreshing glass of fresh local beer (Gilden Kölsch) and choose a dish from the daily menu – Thursdays include Jägerschnitzel, or head down on a Wednesday for traditional Bratwurst.

Clevischer ring 121
51063 Köln
Phone: +49 221 6406339

Website: http://www.gilden-brauhaus.de/gilden_brauhaus__koln-mulheim.html

Image credit: Raimond Spekkin, Wikimedia Commons

Image credit: Raimond Spekkin, Wikimedia Commons 

Rheinau

Described as a ‘hidden gem’, this restaurant is off the tourist track and popular with locals. It’s ideal for lunch or dinner, and the extensive menu has something to suit everyone, why not finish your meal with tasty apple pancakes with cinnamon? It’s also worth noting you might want to make a reservation here, as it does get very busy.

Im Sionstal 2
50678 Köln
Phone: +49 221 99701230

Website: http://www.rheinau-cafe.de/Seiten/de/menu.aspx

Image credit: Jeffreyw, Flickr

Image credit: Jeffreyw, Flickr

 

If this has inspired you to explore all the culinary delights that Cologne has to offer, you can book your very own holiday to Cologne through Great Escapes.


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Discover the history of Cologne

A self-drive or Eurostar holiday to Cologne will introduce visitors to a city boasting a wealth of historical and cultural attractions. This should come as no surprise; the city holds a history spanning over 2,000 years and amazingly several cultural monuments dating from the city’s early years are still standing today. You’ll discover them stood beside medieval and modern landmarks, all combining to showcase a city of immense affluence and intrigue.

Given the history of Cologne, you’ll find an endless list of attractions, sites and stories to discover during your city break. To help you connect with the most fascinating elements of Cologne, we’ve put together a timeline of the city’s fascinating history and culture.


Roman Cologne

There is a long history of Romans residing beside the River Rhine, a history that Cologne has been a significant part of. Several signs of the Roman civilisation can be found in the city, from the Roman foundations beneath the City Hall, the famed Roman Tower which was built in the first century AD and the Weidener Grabkammer burial chamber which contains spectacular furnishings. For the best insight and information into the city’s Roman era, look no further than a visit to the fantastic Roman-German Museum.

The Cathedral

Arguably one of the most prominent landmarks in the history of Cologne, Cologne Cathedral towers above the Old Town, offering panoramic views from 157 metres up across the roofs of the city. The first stone was laid in 1248, though the cathedral as it stands today wasn’t completed until 1880. Miraculously, the cathedral survived heavy bombing during WWII and today the building is maintained and resorted by a team of 80 stonemasons, glaziers, roofers and several other specialists.

Image source: Kolntourismus

Image source: Kolntourismus

Romanic Churches

Touring the many Romanic churches found across the city is easily one of the top things to do in Cologne. There are twelve Romanic churches that contribute to the culture and history of Cologne, from St. Andreas and magnificent St. Gereon to charming St. Maria Capitol and the towering Groß St. Martin (pictured below).

Image source: Kolntourismus

Image source: Kolntourismus

The Old Town and Medieval Cologne

Picturesque charm resonates throughout Cologne’s Old Town. Over 70% of the city was destroyed during WWII, but much of the breath-taking medieval architecture and buildings were rebuilt to their original appearance. Today, one of the best places to enjoy the atmosphere of the Old Town is over a glass of Kölsch – a traditional Cologne beer – off the cobbled medieval streets of Heumarkt.

Image source: Kolntourismus

Image source: Kolntourismus

Hohenzollern Bridge

Cologne’s iconic bridge provides passage across the River Rhine, while also simultaneously blending history and modern culture. The bridge was built in 1907 and then rebuilt after WWII, reopened to the public in 1948. It is a proud feat of German engineering, but for many today, the bridge is perhaps best known for its ‘love lock’ tradition. This involves tens of thousands of padlocks being secured to the bridge by different couples, symbolising their love. It is estimated that the padlocks have added over two tonnes of weight to the bridge!

Image source: Kolntourismus

Image source: Kolntourismus

Modern Cologne

The modern day city holds another important chapter in the history of Cologne and its captivating culture. The city has become a haven for shoppers with one of Europe’s biggest shopping areas, found along Hohe Straße and Schildergasse, just a stone’s throw from the city’s cathedral. Art lovers will also revel in the opportunities presented by Cologne, especially via the world-famous Museum Ludwig and the ART Cologne festival held every April. Koelner Zoo is another famous modern day resident of the city, popular with tourists and locals alike. Cologne is also recognised for its diversity and acceptance of different cultures, famed as being one of the most gay-friendly cities in Europe.

Image source: Kolntourismus

Image source: Kolntourismus

Read more about Cologne via our informative guide.


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New Year in Cologne

If you’ve ever been to Cologne, you’ll already know that it’s a beautiful city and a great place to visit at any time of the year. But what about heading over to celebrate the New Year? We’ve looked at different events and activities that you can find in Cologne on 31st December, which we hope will inspire you to take a trip…

Fireworks display

Find a spot along the riverbank of the Rhine or one of the bridges for the best view of these spectacular midnight fireworks. Be sure to get a spot fairly early, as it gets quite busy later into the evening.

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River cruise on the Rhine

With a selection of boats to choose from, all with a different party style, you can watch the magnificent fireworks display while cruising along the river Rhine. Setting sail in the early evening, you can take your pick between a night of live performances, including authentic Cologne music or 70s and 80s, just to name a few. You can book a river cruise here.

Visit the Old Town

Explore the historic old town, where you can find lots of little shops down meandering streets and eye-catching colourful buildings – a lot of which were rebuilt after the Second World War.

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Image credit: Charlie Dave

Live music

If you’re more interested in a beer-and-a-band kind of evening, make your way down to the Lanxess Arena, get a traditional Kölsch beer and enjoy the evening’s entertainment. This year a band formed in 1970 titled “Bläck Fööss” will be gracing the stage.

Panorama Cologne Triangle

Although the building isn’t open to watch the late night fireworks, it’s still worth a visit, as from here (for those of you who don’t mind heights) you can see a panoramic view of the city from 29 floors up, which will no doubt look incredible when lit up at night. Find out more about booking a ticket here.

Köln Panorama

If you’d like more information about short breaks to Cologne, or would like to book a trip, pay a visit to our website.


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Top 10 things to do in Amsterdam

Dubbed the ‘Venice of the North’, Amsterdam holidays are among the most popular breaks in Europe, allowing visitors to explore a city rich in culture and history, further complimented by a quirky, stylish and flamboyant identity. From the 17th-century architecture and fascinating museums, to the mesmerising canals and vibrant nightlife, being short of things to do in Amsterdam is impossible.

Wander around the Rijksmuseum

Dedicated to arts and history, the Rijksmuseum is considered one of the world’s best museums. Whether it is the works of Rembrandt or the inspiring atrium, this museum is a must-see during all Amsterdam city breaks.

featured image: Reinoud Kaasschieter

Featured image: Reinoud Kaasschieter

Take a canal boat tour

Cruising along the expansive network of canals will provide you with a great vantage point when gazing at Amsterdam’s most iconic attractions. Travelling on the water will allow you to delve into places inaccessible on foot as you explore one of Europe’s most extensive historic city centres.

Featured image: Ben Salter

Featured image: Ben Salter

Stroll around the Begijnhof

A sedate and picturesque setting, Amsterdam’s Beginjhof is one of the oldest inner courts in the city, providing an interesting glimpse into the religious functions of eras gone by.

Featured image: Bruce Tuten

Featured image: Bruce Tuten

Visit Anne Frank’s House

This historic house and museum is the site of Anne Frank’s hiding from the Nazis in World War II. Set beside the beautiful Prinsengracht Canal, this is where Frank penned her iconic diary and from where her legacy lives on.

Featured image: Ankur Gulati

Featured image: Ankur Gulati

Eat cheese!

If you love cheese, you’ll love Amsterdam. The city is adorned with countless cheese shops and museums, all allowing visitors the opportunity to sample some of the country’s finest dairy treats. If you’re on a self-drive holiday to Amsterdam, strap a wheel of cheese or two in the passenger seat for the ride home.

Featured image: Alistair

Featured image: Alistair

Absorb artistic vibes in the Jordaan neighbourhood

Arguably Amsterdam’s most artistic and vibrant neighbourhood, an afternoon stroll through Jordaan will see you encounter art galleries, boutique shops and trendy eateries.

Featured image: Kitty Terwolbeck

Featured image: Kitty Terwolbeck

Chill out in Vondelpark

There’s no better place to spend a sunny afternoon than in Vondelpark with a picnic and a bottle of wine. Amsterdam’s urban park is an oasis of calm, removed from the hustle and bustle of the Canal Ring and popular museums.

Featured image: Barbara Walsh

Featured image: Barbara Walsh

Get lost in Amsterdam’s Canal Ring

Boasting over 100 kilometres of canals and 1,500 bridges, you’d be forgiven for losing your way as you navigate the maze that is Amsterdam’s canal system. There is no better place to get lost however, with 17th-century architecture and magnificent churches punctuating your exploration.

Featured image: Lucasz Lech

Featured image: Lucasz Lech

Immerse yourself in the city’s craft beer scene

While Heineken rules the roost in Amsterdam’s beer scene, creative artisan beers are beginning to make a name for themselves across the city, with countless bars stocking the likes of Brouwerij ‘t IJ. If you’ve skipped the baggage weight dilemma by travelling to Amsterdam with Eurostar, ensure you bring some bottles home with you.

Featured image: Franklin Heijnen

Featured image: Franklin Heijnen

Catch the colours of the Flower Market

Held weekdays from 9 am – 5.30 pm and Sundays from 11 am – 5.30 pm, meandering around the colourful Floating Flower Market is one of the most multisensory things to do in Amsterdam. This is the place to come to get your hands on some Dutch tulips, ensuring your Amsterdam holidays deliver a souvenir or two to enjoy back home.

Featured image: Franklin Heijnen

Featured image: Franklin Heijnen

 

For more information about short breaks from the UK to Amsterdam please visit our website, GreatEscapes.co.uk.

Please feel free to share your top Amsterdam tips with us by commenting below.


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Bruges Top Ten, Part 2: Food and Drink

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Bruges is the perfect weekend getaway for any foodie and it should come as no surprise that two of Belgium’s favourite food passions are showcased here, namely chocolate and frites, which each have their own museums. Of course, there are a lot more edible and drinkable delights to be found throughout the city and here are some of our favourites.

You’ll find the locations of everywhere mentioned (and more) marked on the map at the end.

1. Chocolate
How many museums can you think of that hand out chocolate as you enter and when you leave? At Choco Story, you’ll also learn about the history of chocolate from the Mayas and the Aztecs through to modern times, as well as seeing (and smelling) chocolate being made. You can read more about the museum in our previous post Choco Story, the Chocolate Museum in Bruges.

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For superb home-made chocolates using the finest organic ingredients visit The Chocolate Line. Their salted caramels come highly recommended!

2. Fries
Learn about the history of frying potatoes and why “Vlaamse Friets” are like no others at the Frietmuseum, and of course, taste them too, in the museum’s own café, in a 14th century setting, not far from Bruges’ famous Grote Markt.

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3. Waffles
You can’t visit Belgium without trying a Belgian waffle and you’ll find them just as good but better value if you buy them from a street vendor rather than in a restaurant. We’d recommend a ‘wafel met slagroom,’ a waffle with whipped cream but there’s a huge variety of toppings you can choose from!

If you do prefer to sit down and relax in a café then try Humpty Dumpty’s, who make excellent waffles, which you can enjoy with a very good DIY hot chocolate (hot milk served with a stick of chocolate for you to melt down as required!)

4. Meatballs
Visit Balls of Glory to enjoy some seriously tasty, handcrafted meatballs to eat in, take-away or cook at home.

5. Beer
Open daily for visits, De Halve Maan is Bruges’only remaining independent brewery. You’ll find all the details of their tours and tastings on their website.

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6. Bar
2be, a bar and beer shop, together with their beer wall (with hundreds of beers bottles framed behind glass) is well worth a visit and if you fancy a lively atmosphere in a pub with over 300 beers try Brugs Beertjes.

7. Café
It is nigh-on impossible to walk past the bakers Het Dagelijks Brood, without the smell of fresh baking drawing you in where you’ll find locals and visitors sitting at long wooden communal tables. Great for vegetarians and meat eaters, the menus are in various languages offering a great choice of breakfasts, brunches and lunches, pastries and cakes!

8. Brasserie
With over 400 beers to choose from, Bierbrasserie Cambrinus, is a great choice for beer with a good meal with each dish, through appetisers, mains and desserts, all cooked in beer. Sitting on long tables and benches you’ll find everyone from boisterous stag parties to couples with young children all enjoying the hearty beer-flavoured fare.

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9. Restaurant
If you are looking for a more refined dinning experience try Park Restaurant. They serve great food in a stylish, atmospheric setting and the service is superb. Menus (in English) and prices are available on their website.

10. Food Markets
For great Flemish food for a picnic or some foodie souvenirs be sure to check-out one of the two local markets. On Saturday mornings go to ’t Zand and on Wednesdays Markt Square. The former is the largest with the best offers but both are worth a visit with plenty of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, roasted nuts, wine and more cheese than you could possible imagine. Many stalls will be happy to offer a free taster so do tuck-in!

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You’ll find all the locations (marked by the green dots) of these great foodie finds, together with links to their websites on the map below.  Why not make your own great escape to Bruges.

© Bruges Tourism, Jan Darthet


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Belgian beer and a belfry in Bruges

Thanks to Richard Field from ‘A bit of culture‘ for this great guest post from Bruges...

The number one must-do attraction for any visitor to the Belgian city of Bruges has to be a climb to the top of the belfry in the Markt, one of Europe’s most beautiful squares. Also known as the Belfort, this 83-metre high medieval bell tower with its distinctive octagonal lantern can be seen from pretty much all over town, so is a helpful reference point.

© Bruges Tourism, Jan Darthet

Bruges Markt © Bruges Tourism, Jan Darthet

© Bruges Tourism, Jan Darthet

view of the belfry from nearby canal © Bruges Tourism, Jan Darthet

On a previous visit I was put off by the massive queue to get in, so when I knew I was going back to Bruges I made it my priority and got there shortly after the 9.30am opening time. I walked straight in after shelling out my €8 entrance fee, and set off up the 366 steps. A sign by the entrance says that a maximum of 70 people are allowed inside the belfry at any one time, explaining the usual queue. Fortunately for me, there were closer to 7 people inside rather than 70, so climbing up (and back down) was a doddle.

I started off at a fast pace, taking two steps at a time eager to reach the top and enjoy the famed panoramic views. There are several rooms to stop off in on the way if you need a breather or fancy seeing the bells themselves. Information plaques by each room tell you how many of the 366 steps you’ve still got to go – the first 300 are fine, but the staircase suddenly becomes very narrow and steep as you approach the viewpoint.

As there is only one staircase, you will pass people coming down as you climb to the top. There really isn’t a lot of room for manoeuvre and the climb wouldn’t be very comfortable for the obese. Finally, you’ll be rewarded with a 360º view of beautiful Bruges and surroundings. On my visit it was cold, windy and wet at the top so I didn’t fancy hanging around for too long. I spent ten minutes getting my breath back and taking selfies with Markt below until it was time for the long descent to ground level.

The belfry is open from 9.30 – 5 every day, with last entrance at 4.15. Go as early as possible to avoid the queues.

After all that jelly-leg inducing exercise, you’ll be in need of a beer and a sit-down, and you won’t need to stagger far to find one of Bruges’ newest bars.

Tucked away in the far corner of Markt, behind the bus-stop, is the Duvelorium Grand Beer Café. It’s located above the Historium museum and although it’s in the same building, entrance to the bar is free and open to all regardless of whether you have been to the museum or not.

The main selling point of Duvelorium is its balcony overlooking Markt – there can be few better places in Bruges to sit outside with a Belgian beer and watch the world go by. Although there were patio heaters, it was far too cold for al fresco drinking when we visited, so we grabbed a window-side seat and enjoyed the view from indoors.

Being the official bar of the Duvel Moortgat brewery, I had a feeling it might only sell Duvel. Not a problem at all, as I love the magical golden ale – although I know it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact there’s a decent choice of beers here with Vedett, De Koninck, Liefmans Kriek Cuveé Brut and La Chouffe on tap, with plenty more bottles to choose from as well as both classic Duvel and Duvel Tripel Hop.

Duvelorium is only open until 6pm (9pm on Thursdays), so remember to get here early and give yourself enough time to browse the beer gift shop before moving on.

© Bruges Tourism, Jan Darthet

© Bruges Tourism, Jan Darthet

You can read more from Richard on his blog, A bit of culture and follow him on Twitter @RField75